When clients want sample deliverables

“Well, what you do sounds interesting, but could you send me a sample project?”

This is one of the most-feared questions a solopreneur encounters. You might freeze, not having a portfolio of the best, sufficiently-anonymized examples of what you do. A much better approach is to turn the question around and find out what your prospective client is most concerned about. What is he really worried about — that you can’t do the work? that your deliverable will be a piece of junk? something else?

Instead of getting that deer-in-the-headlights look, take one or more of these approaches to reassure your clients that you know what you are doing and that you are confident that you will meet their specific needs.

The most straightforward answer is to refocus your client on his specific need:

“As you can imagine, each of my deliverables is a custom product developed for that client’s specific needs. Each project is custom designed, so what I develop for you will look different from anything I have done for any other client. Rather than show you something that addressed a different need, what if I sketch out what I am imagining the end result to look like?” (Note: you’re not providing the end result, just formatting something so your client can see you are committed to providing a decision-ready deliverable.)

Another approach, particularly if you are just starting your business, is to anticipate these requests and prepare an example of what you want to be known for. Find a non-profit organization or other group for whom you could provide a strategic service.  Conduct a few reality-check interviews with the leaders of the organization and identify a strategic need they have that you could address, at least in part. You don’t want to give away all your services for free, but you do want a meaningful opportunity to shine and demonstrate what you want to be known for. Once you know what you could do for the organization, write up a proposal, spelling out your request that you be able to share some version of the deliverable to prospective clients.

And finally, listen to your gut. If you get the feeling that this prospective client doesn’t have confidence in your ability, or is skeptical about the value of your deliverable, you may want to walk away from the job. Taking a job with a client who doesn’t already believe that you are the right person often results in an unsatisfied client and a frustrated solopreneur.

One trait of successful solopreneurs

kidsOne of the critical characteristics of a successful solopreneur is the willingness to hold what Zen Buddhists call shoshin, or “beginner’s mind,” in every situation. Beginner’s mind looks with wonder and without preconceptions, assuming that you do not understand or see all aspects of the situation or all the possibilities present. Even (especially!) when you considers yourself an expert, you look at it as if seeing it for the first time. This willingness to let go of the ego-attachment of being an expert lets you see things in a different and fuller way.

In my experience, this means constantly living slightly outside my comfort zone, to acknowledge that each situation is new and what was true in other situations may not be true in this one. Being an expert, even being the expert in a field, isn’t sufficient to build a successful business. While I always feel a bit stretched, it is a good and healthy thing to be reminded frequently that I need to look at situations from a fresh perspective.